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Q&A: Chinese Venture Capital Firms Are Now Starting to Invest in African Start-Ups

Lori Systems is a local startup based in Nairobi. It has been building a logistics platform to improve cargo transportation across Africa. Most importantly, Lori Systems can optimize truck utilization much in the same way that Uber has done for personal vehicles. Photo via Lori Systems.

Now that it’s becoming more difficult for Chinese venture capital (VC) firms to invest in the United States where their money is increasingly regarded as “toxic,” these investors are now looking farther afield for new opportunities and that’s bringing them all the way to Africa. Evidence of this came last week when two Chinese VC firms, Hillhouse Capital and Crystal Stream led an initial funding round, known as a “Series A,” for Kenya-based trucking logistics start-up Lori Systems.

The Lori Systems investment was notable because in the past Chinese VCs often preferred backing Chinese early-stage companies rather than those from other countries. But that’s now apparently starting to change as Chinese investors become more sophisticated and comfortable operating in different cultures, especially in Africa where a younger generation of Chinese professionals has extensive on-the-ground experience, more attuned cultural soft skills and large networks of local relationships. Nonetheless, Africa is still very much a frontier market for Chinese VCs and that means there’s a steep learning curve for many investors as they try to better understand the market.

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